This week’s Taboola Think Tank kicks off with The Onion, which along with its sister site The A.V. Club, reaches more than 11 million unique visitors every month. Founded in 1988, The Onion has developed a reputation for creating witty spoofs of otherwise ordinary news.

The site continues to innovate and amuse with satirical news headlines like “Elderly Man Can’t Wait For Senility To Erase Lifetime Of Regretful Memories,” “Shocking ‘Game Of Thrones’ Finale Concludes With Arrest Of 5 Million Viewers For Piracy,” and my personal favorite, “Moon Finally Hatches,” to name a few. At the end of June, The Onion launchedClickhole, a hilarious website intended to parody BuzzFeed and Upworthy with click-worthy viral content.

We recently spoke with Mike McAvoy, President at Onion, Inc. for his thoughts about sponsored content and how they’ve managed to make their audience keep coming back for more.

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How have your readers reacted to the f*cking awesome native advertising on your site, like this Quantcast native ad? 

Our readers have responded very positively to our sponsored content. More than half of them are 18-35 years old, and our entire audience is extremely smart and well-informed. So when we do our native ads, we know better than to try and sneak something by them. We believe in training, and not tricking the reader. We contextualize what’s native, so they know what they are reading is sponsored upfront. They appreciate the honesty, and in return they are still getting rewarded with an entertaining piece of content.

What makes Native and Sponsored Content effective?  What makes an Onion Sponsored Content piece effective?

I can’t speak for all native and sponsored content. What works for us is the application of our world-famous headline writing process to all of our sponsored pieces. The same creative minds and standards we put into creating headlines and jokes go into our native and sponsored efforts.

Can you provide our readers with 3 tips to help drive traffic to their content? 

  1. Create engaging and entertaining content.
  2. Make sure that engaging/entertainment fits within the publication it lives on.
  3. If 1 and 2 fail, make sure you have the best comedy writers in the world working in your building and involved in your creative process. That seems to work for us.

Bottom line – Audiences are smart and transparency is key. When publishers put the same amount of time and energy into creating sponsored content as they do their editorial pieces, they create valuable content that site visitors inherently appreciate. For more tips about how to create outstanding native advertising content, check out this recent articlefrom AdAge.

For more insights from Mike, follow him on Twitter (@McAvoy_TheOnion).

Taboola Think Tank is a series of interviews designed to give Taboola’s audience insights and perspectives on content discovery, native advertising, and digital media. Past expert interviews include: Jennifer Collins, Eric Herd, and Rich Kennedy. If you would like to be interviewed by the Taboola team, please contact Tammy Blythe Goodman

To learn how Taboola can help your business build an audience and monetize content, clickhere.

About Mike McAvoy

President, The Onion 

Mike McAvoy has been the President of The Onion since 2012, and was recently named to Crain’s Chicago Business 40 Under 40 for 2013.

In his current role, McAvoy is responsible for the day-to-day operation of The Onion, its sister pop-culture publication, The A.V. Club, and the recently launched ClickHole. Among other responsibilities, he has direct oversight of the company’s advertising, product development, technology and finance departments.

In July 2012, McAvoy brought The Onion/A.V. Club’s New York and Chicago offices under one roof in Chicago, and in December of 2013 he led the company’s conversion from being a print publication to a completely digital media outlet.

McAvoy is also responsible for spearheading the creation of The Onion’s in-house creative services department, Onion Labs. In a short-time, Labs has already produced native advertising programs and executed various creative projects for brands like 7-Eleven, 7-Up, Adobe, Capital One, Clorox, DSW, Home Depot, Microsoft, Lenovo and YouTube.

Prior to becoming President at Onion, Inc., he was the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer for the company. He also has worked in banking and online education before joining America’s Finest News Source.

A Wisconsin native, he is a graduate of St. Thomas University in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in Finance, Accounting and Spanish.

Mike and his wife, Lindsay, have made their home in Chicago since 2007, and our parents to identical twin boys, Aiden and Owen.

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